A 27-year-old man has been found guilty of the murder of Grace Millane, a British backpacker who disappeared a year ago in Auckland after going on a date.
A jury of seven women and five men took just five hours to unanimously agree that the accused, who cannot be named, had murdered Millane in the hotel room where they had gone after their night out.
As the verdict was delivered, her parents David and Gillian, who had sat through the three-week trial in Auckland’s high court, sobbed. Some members of the jury could also be seen in tears.
The accused showed no emotion as the verdict was read out. He will be sentenced in February.
Speaking outside the court, David Millane said the verdict would be welcomed by his family and his daughter’s friends, but it “will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure over the past year”.
He said: “Grace was taken from us in the most brutal fashion. Our lives have been ripped apart. This will be with us for the rest of our lives. Grace was a beautiful, talented, loving daughter.
“Grace was our sunshine. She did not deserve to be murdered in such a barbaric way in her OE [overseas experience] year.”
He thanked the police, prosecution and New Zealand people for their kindness.
“We must return home and try to pick up the pieces of our lives, day to day, without our lovely Grace.”
Details of the Grace Millane case
Millane, 21, arrived in New Zealand in November 2018 as part of a round-the-world trip. She met the accused on 1 December for a Tinder date at the Sky City casino and later died in his room at the CityLife hotel after being strangled to death.
Her body was then contorted into a suitcase and buried in a shallow grave in the Waitakere ranges, a bushland area west of the city. It has not been disputed from the beginning of the trial that the accused caused Millane’s death, and disposed of her body in an attempt to cover up the incident.
The prosecution argued that the defendant used “reckless violence” while strangling Millane during consensual sex, and disregarded the risk to her life when choking her so hard and for so long that she died.
A forensic pathologist said it would have taken five to 10 minutes for Millane to have died, and she would first have fallen unconscious due to the pressure on her neck.
“You can’t consent to your own murder,” said crown prosecutor Brian Dickey.
“This isn’t a little bit of sex gone wrong … because the person doing that must have known that they were hurting her, causing her harm, that might well cause her death, but they were reckless and carried on, and she died.”
The defence counsel argued that Millane, from Essex, died accidentally in a “tragic” event that resulted from a toxic combination of alcohol, inexperience with BDSM practices and sexual passion going too far.
The accused had buried Millane’s body and hidden evidence of her death due to a fear of not being believed, the defence said, claiming Millane’s death was not the result of murderous intent, but a series of mistakes and bad decisions compounded by stress and intoxication.
Millane’s parents, David and Gillian, have been present for every day of the trial, accompanied by New Zealand Detective Inspector Scott Beard, who led the initial missing person’s investigation into Millane’s week-long disappearance, and a local family liaison police officer who conducted enquiries on behalf of New Zealand police in the UK.
Throughout the three-week trial the jury learned of Millane’s “happy and outgoing nature” and her initial delight in meeting the accused on their first date together – “we click so well” she had texted a UK friend, during an evening in which the pair visited a series of inner-city Auckland bars.
The jury also learned that the accused had a long history of Tinder dating, with a number of his former dates cutting off contact with him because they felt “uncomfortable” with his demeanour or sexual proclivities.
The accused, who lived in an inner-city hotel, had a reported interest in choking and domination, and a history of telling exaggerated stories and lies – including that he had cancer, was a professional athlete, and worked as an “oil manager” off-shore.
Addressing the jury, Judge Simon Moore said it was not disputed that the defendant had “repeatedly” lied to the police and others involved in the case, and there was substantial evidence of his lies. However the judge reminded the jury that however off-putting they may have found the accused’s lifestyle and sexual tastes, they should in no way influence their decision-making process in whether or not he was guilty.
Moore commended the jury for their “conscientiousness” during the high-profile trial, and said he believed they had followed his orders not to read the “saturation” media coverage of the case, or speculation on social media.
The forensic pathologist who examined Millane said the bruises on her upper body were classic signs of “restraint” and he had never seen a case of death resulting from consensual sexual strangulation in New Zealand, calling such an incident “incredibly rare” worldwide.
Millane’s death shocked many in New Zealand, which prides itself on welcoming tourists.
Hundreds of people attended candlelight vigils after she died, and the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, spoke about New Zealanders feeling “hurt and shame” that she was killed in their country.